At the bottom of the cup were a number of metallic compartments, and the whole interior portion was revolving slowly at a turn of the old man's fingers.
He picked a tiny ivory ball from the table and placed it in the cup. He set the interior spinning and the ball circulating in the reverse direction. The sphere clicked and clattered as it forced its way among the metallic strips.
It may seem strange that I did not at first recognize a roulette-wheel. But the game is more a diversion of the rich than of those with whom fortune had thrown me. Gambling had never appealed to me, and I knew roulette only by reputation.
The ball stopped and settled in one of the compartments, and the old man took a gold-piece from one of the squares on the table, transferred a little pile of gold from his right side to his left, and jotted down some figures upon his paper.
And suddenly I was aware of an abysmal rage that filled me. It seemed like an abominable dream—the futile old man, the ruffians and their wenches below. And I had endured so much for Jacqueline, to find myself immeshed in such things in the end. I stepped forward and swept the entire heap of gold into the centre of the table.
"M. Duchaine!" I shouted. "Why are you playing the fool here when your daughter is suffering persecution?"
The old man seemed to be aware of my presence for the first time. He looked up at me out of his mild old eyes, and shook his head in apparent perplexity.
"You are welcome, monsieur," he said, half rising with a courtly air. "Do you wish to stake a few pieces in a game with me?"
He gathered up a handful of the coins and pushed them toward me.
"Of course, we shall give back our stakes at the end," he continued, eyeing me with a cunning expression, in which I seemed to detect avarice and madness, too.
"This is just to see how well we play. Afterward, if we are satisfied, we will play for real money—real gold."
He began to divide the gold-pieces into two heaps.
"You see, monsieur, I have a system—at least, I nearly have a system," he went on eagerly. "But it may not be so good as yours. Come. You shall be the banker, and see if you can win my money from me. But we shall return the stakes afterward."
"M. Duchaine!" I shouted in his ear. "Where is your daughter?"
"My daughter," he repeated in mild surprise. "Ah, yes; she has gone to New York to make our fortune with the system. You see," he continued with senile cunning, "she has taken away the system, and so I am not sure whether I can beat you. But make your play, monsieur." There was at least no indecision in the manner in which he set the wheel spinning.
I did not know what to do. I was fascinated and bewildered by the situation.
In desperation I thrust a gold-piece upon one of the numbers at the head of a column. The wheel stopped, and the ball rolled into one of its compartments. The old man thrust several gold-pieces toward me.
I staked again and again, and won every time. Within five minutes the whole heap of gold-pieces lay at my side.
The dotard looked at me with an expression of imbecile terror.
"You will give them back to me?" he pleaded. "Remember, monsieur, it was agreed that we should return the money."
I thrust the heap of coins toward him. "Now, M. Duchaine," I said; "in return for these you will conduct me to Mlle. Jacqueline."
He shook his head as though he had not understood.
"It is very strange," he said. "I do not understand it at all. The system cannot be at fault; and yet——"
I snatched the paper from his grasp and threw it on the floor, then pulled him to his feet.
"Enough of this nonsense, M. Duchaine," I said. "Will you conduct me to Mlle. Jacqueline immediately, or shall I go and find her?"
"I am here, monsieur," answered a voice at the door; and I whirled, to see Jacqueline confronting me.
SOME PLAIN SPEAKING
I took three steps toward her and stood still. For this was Jacqueline; but it was not my Jacqueline. It might have been Jacqueline's grandmother when she was a girl—this haughty belle with her high waist and side curls, and her flounced skirt and aspect of cold recognition.
She did not stir as I approached her, but stood still, framed in the door-way, looking at me as though I were an unwelcome stranger. My outstretched arms fell to my sides. I halted three paces in front of her. There was no answering welcome on her face, only a cold little smile that showed she knew me.
"Jacqueline!" I cried. "It is I, Paul! You know me, Jacqueline?"
Jacqueline inclined her head. "Oh, yes; I know you, monsieur," she answered. "Why have you come here?"
"To see you, Jacqueline! To save you, Jacqueline!"
She made me a mocking courtesy. "I am infinitely obliged to you, monsieur, for your good will," she said; "but I do not need your aid. I am with friends now, M.—M. Paul!"
I withdrew a little way and leaned my hand against the table for support, breathing heavily. Behind me I heard the click, click of the roulette-ball as it pursued its course around the wheel. The old dotard had already forgotten me, and was playing with his right hand against his left again.
"Do you not want to see me, Jacqueline?" I asked, watching her through a whirling fog.
"No, monsieur," she answered chillingly. "No, monsieur!"
"Do you wish me to go?"
She said nothing, and I walked unsteadily toward the door. She followed me slowly. I went out of the room and pulled the door to behind me. I knew that after it had closed I should never see Jacqueline again.
She opened it and stood confronting me; and then burst into a flood of impassioned speech.
"Why have you followed me here to persecute me?" she cried. "Are you under the illusion that I am helpless? Do you think the friends who rescued me from you have forgotten that you exist? You took advantage of my helplessness. I do not want to see you. I hate you!"
"You told me that you loved me, and I believed you, Jacqueline," I answered miserably, watching the colour flame to her lovely face. And I could see she remembered that.
"When I was ill you used me for your own base schemes," she went on with cutting emphasis. "And you—you followed me here. Do you think that I am unprotected, and that you are dealing only with an old man and a helpless woman? Why, I have friends who would come in and kill you if I but raised my voice!"
"Raise your voice, mademoiselle. I am ready for your friends," I answered.
She looked less steadily at me and seemed to waver.
"What have you come for?" she asked. "Have you not had money enough? Do you want more?"
I seized her by the wrists. Thus I held her at arm's length, and my fingers tightened until I saw the flesh grow white beneath them. The intensity of my rage beat hers down and made it a puny thing.
"Jacqueline! You take me for an adventurer?" I cried. "Is that what they told you? Why do you think I brought you so near your home when you were, as you said, helpless? Only a few nights ago you said you loved me; that you would never send me away until I wished to go. What is it that has happened to change you so, Jacqueline?"
I had her in my arms. She struggled fiercely, and I let her go.
"How dare you, monsieur!" she panted. "Go at once, or I shall call for aid!"
So I went into the passage; and as I left the room I could still hear the hellish click of the ivory ball in the roulette-wheel. I was utterly confounded.
But before I reached the end of the little hall Jacqueline came running back to me.
"Monsieur!" she gasped. "M. Paul! For the sake of—of what I once thought you, I do not want you to be seen. You are in dreadful danger. Come back!"
"Never mind the danger, madame," I answered, and I saw her flinch at the word and look at me in dazed bewilderment. "Never mind my danger."
"It is for your own sake, monsieur," she said more gently.
"No, Mme. d'Epernay," I answered; and she winced again, as though I had struck her across the face.
"For my sake," she pleaded, catching at my arm, and at that moment I heard a door slam underneath and heavy footsteps begin slowly to ascend the stairs.
"No, madame," I answered, trying to release my arm from her clasp. Her face was full of fear, and I knew it was fear of the man below, not me.
"Then for the sake of—our love, Paul!" she gasped.
I suffered her to lead me back into the room. In truth, I was in no hurry to go. As she drew me back and closed the door behind us I heard the footsteps pause and turn along the corridor.
I knew that heavy gait as well as though I already saw Leroux's hard face before my eyes.
Jacqueline pushed me inside the room behind her father's chair and closed, but did not hasp, the door. The room was completely dark, and I did not know whether it connected with other rooms or was a mere closet, but the freshness of the air in it inclined me to the former view.
Over my head the torrent roared, and I had to stand very close to the door to hear what passed.
I heard Leroux tramp in and his voice mingling with the click-click of the ball in the roulette-wheel.
"Who is here?" he demanded.
"I am," answered Jacqueline.
"I thought I heard Lacroix," said Leroux thickly.
"I have not seen M. Lacroix to-day," Jacqueline returned.
Leroux stamped heavily about the room and then sat down. I heard the legs of his chair scratch the wooden floor as he drew it up to the table.
"Maudit!" he burst out explosively. "Where is d'Epernay? I am tired of waiting for him!"
"I have told you many times that I do not know," answered Jacqueline; and there followed the click-click of the ball inside the wheel again.
"How long will you keep up this pretense, madame?" cried Leroux angrily. "What have you to gain by concealing the knowledge of your husband from me?"
"M. Leroux, why will you not believe that I remember nothing?" answered Jacqueline.
"How can you have forgotten? Why did you run away after marrying him? What were you doing in New York? Who was the man who accompanied you to the Merrimac?" he shouted.
Through the chink of the door I saw the old man look up in mild protest at the disturbing sounds. I clenched my fists, and the temptation to make an end of Leroux was almost too strong for my restraint.
But to Jacqueline the insult conveyed no meaning, and Leroux continued in more moderate tones.
"Come, madame, why do you not play fair with me?" he asked. "Who is that man Hewlett, and why did he accompany you so far toward your chateau? Before God, I know your husband and he have been plotting with Tom Carson against me, but why he should thus place himself in my power I cannot understand."
"Ah, you have spoken of a Tom Carson many times," said Jacqueline. "Soon, monsieur, I shall begin to believe that such a person really exists."
"Tell me where you met Hewlett."
"I tell you for the last time, monsieur, that I do not remember. But what I do remember I shall tell you. After my father had turned M. Louis d'Epernay out of his home, whither he had come to beg money to pay his gambling debts, you brought him back. You made my father take him in. He wanted to marry me. But I refused, because I had no love for him. But you insisted I should marry him, because he had gained you the entrance to the seigniory and helped you to acquire your power over my father. Oh, yes, monsieur, let us be frank with each other, as you have expressed the desire to be."
"Go on," growled Leroux, biting his lips. "Perhaps I shall learn something."
"Nothing that you do not already know, monsieur," she flashed out with spirit. "My father came here, long ago, a political fugitive, in danger of death. You knew this, and you played upon his fears. You brought your friends and encouraged him to gamble and waste his money in his old age, when his mind had become enfeebled.
"Yes, you played on the old gambling instinct which had laid dormant in him for forty years. You made him think he was acting the grand seigneur, as his father had done in earlier days, in his other home at St. Boniface.
"You drained him of his last penny, and then you offered him ten thousand dollars to gamble with in Quebec, telling him of the delights of the city and promising him immunity," the girl went on remorselessly. "And for this he was to assign his property to Louis, thinking, of course, that he could soon make his fortune at the tables. And Louis was to marry me, and in turn sell the seigniory to you. And so I married Louis under threat of death to my father.
"Oh, yes, monsieur, the plan was simple and well devised. And I knew nothing of it. But Louis d'Epernay blurted it all out to me upon our wedding night. I think the shame of knowing that I had been sold to him unhinged my mind, for I ran out into the snows.
"Now you know all, monsieur, for I remember nothing more until I found myself travelling back with M. Hewlett in the sleigh. You say I was in New York. Well, I do not remember it.
"And as for Louis d'Epernay, I know nothing of him—but I will die before he claims me as his wife!"
She had grown breathless as she proceeded with her scathing denunciation and now stood facing him with an aspect of fearless challenge on her face. And then I had the measure of Leroux. He laughed, and he beat down her scorn with scorn.
"You have underestimated your price, madame," he sneered. "Since you have learned so much, I will tell you more. You have cost me twenty thousand dollars, and not ten; for besides the ten thousand paid to your father, Louis got ten thousand also, upon the signing of the marriage contract. So swallow that, and be proud of being priced so high! And the seigniory is already his, and I am waiting for him to return and sell me the ground rights for twenty-five thousand more, and if I know Louis d'Epernay he will not wait very long to get his fingers round it."
Jacqueline stood watching him with supreme indifference.
The man's coarse gibes had flown past her without wounding her, as they would have hurt a lower nature.
"No doubt he will return," she answered quietly. "If he would take ten thousand for me, surely he will take twenty-five thousand for the seigniory. You have us in your power."
"Then why the devil doesn't he come?" roared Leroux. "If he is intriguing with Carson, by God, I know enough to shut him up in jail the rest of his life. And so, madame," he ended quietly, "it will perhaps be worth your while to tell me why Tom Carson sent this Hewlett back to the chateau; for no doubt the wolves have picked him pretty clean by now."
"Listen to me, Simon Leroux," said Jacqueline, standing up before him, as indomitable in spirit as he. "All your plots and schemes mean nothing to me. My only aim is to take my father away from here, from you and M. d'Epernay, and let you wrangle over your spoil. There are more than four-legged wolves, M. Leroux; there are human ones, and, like the others, when food is scarce they prey upon each other."
"I like your spirit!" exclaimed Simon, staring at her with frank admiration.
And Jacqueline's head drooped then. Unwittingly Simon had pierced her defences.
But he never knew, for before he had time to know the grey-beard rose upon his feet and rubbed his thin hands together, chuckling.
"Never mind your money, Simon," he said. "I'm going to be richer than any of you. Do you know what I did with that ten thousand? I gave it to my little daughter, and she has gone to New York to make our fortunes at Mr. Daly's gaming-house. No, there she is!" he suddenly exclaimed. "She has come back!"
Leroux wheeled round and looked from one to the other.
"So that was the purpose of your visit to New York?" he asked the girl. "So—you have not quite forgotten that, madame! Your price was not too vile a thing for you to take it to New York with you! Your shame was not too great for you to remember that your father had ten thousand dollars!"
"It was not mine," she flashed back at Leroux. "My father would have lost it again to you. I took it to New York because I thought that I could make enough to give him a home during the rest of his days. Do you think I would have touched a penny of it, monsieur?"
"I don't know," answered Leroux. "But we will soon find out. Where is that money, madame?"
Jacqueline's lips quivered. I saw her glance involuntarily toward the door behind which I was standing.
And suddenly the last phase of the problem became clear to me. Jacqueline thought I had robbed her.
I stepped from behind the door and faced Leroux. "I have that money," I said curtly.
I saw his face turn white. He staggered back, and then, with a bull's bellow, rushed at me, his heavy fists aloft. I think he could have beaten out my brains with them.
But he stopped short when he saw my automatic pistol pointing at his chest. And he saw in my face that I was ready to shoot to kill.
"You thief—you spy—you treacherous hound, I'll murder you!" he roared.
The dotard, who had been looking at me, came forward.
"No, no, I won't have him murdered, Simon," he protested, laying a trembling hand on Leroux's shoulder. "He has almost as good a roulette system as I have."
We must have stood confronting each other for fully a minute. Then Leroux dropped his hands and smiled sourly at me.
"You seem—temporarily—to have the advantage of me, M. Hewlett," he said. "I respect your pertinacity, and now at last I am content in having discovered the motive of your enterprise. I thought you were hired by Carson. If you had been frank with me we might have come to an understanding long ago.
"So, since you have managed to come thus far, and since I am a man of business, the best thing we can do is to talk over our difficulties and try to adjust them. You will recall that on the occasion of our meeting in New York I asked you what your price was. But of course you were not then prepared to answer me, since you had your price already. Well, have you come here to get more?"
There was an indescribable insolence in his tone. In spite of the fact that I had him at my mercy, the man's force and courage almost made him my master then.
"You may leave us, Mme. d'Epernay," he said to Jacqueline. "No doubt your absence will spare your feelings, for we are going to be frank in our speech."
"I thank you for your consideration, M. Leroux," replied Jacqueline, and walked quietly out of the room. It occurred to me that Leroux could hardly be more frank than he had been, but I sat down and waited. The ball was clicking round the wheel again, and very faintly, through the roar of the cataracts, I heard the sound of the fiddle below.
Leroux sat down heavily.
"I will put down my cards," he said. "I have you here in my power. I have four men with me. This dotard"—he glanced contemptuously at old Duchaine—"has no bearing on the situation. You can, of course, kill me; but that would not help you. You are in possession of some money belonging to Mme. d'Epernay, and also of certain information that I shall be glad to receive. There is no law in this valley except my will. Give me the information I want, keep your money, and go."
"In the first place, are you, or are you not, in Carson's pay? I shall believe your answer because, if you are, I shall offer you a better price to join me, and therefore it will not pay you to lie. But you will not be able to deceive me by pretending to be."
"I am not," I answered.
"Then why did he send you here?"
"I left his employ three days before I met Mme. d'Epernay. If you were in New York you must have seen that I was not there."
"Good. Second, where is Louis d'Epernay?"
"I have never seen the man," I replied.
Leroux glanced incredulously at me.
"Then your meeting with madame was purely an accident?" he inquired. "Your only desire, then, was to get the money you knew she was carrying with her? But how did you know that she was carrying that money?"
I shrugged my shoulders. How was it possible for us to reach an understanding?
"I don't know why you are lying to me," he said. "It is not to your advantage. You must have known that she was in New York; Louis must have told Carson, and he must have told you. And Louis must have told you the secret of the entrance, unless——"
"Listen to me!" I cried furiously. "I will not be badgered with any more questions. I have told you the truth. I met Mme. d'Epernay by accident, and I escorted her toward the chateau, and followed her after you kidnapped her, to protect her from you."
He grunted and glanced at me with an inscrutable expression upon his hard features.
"You are in love with her?" he asked.
"Put it that way if you choose," I answered.
He scowled at me ferociously, and then he began studying my face. I returned stare for stare. Finally he banged his big fist down upon the table.
"Well, it doesn't matter," he said, "because, whatever your purpose, you cannot do any harm. And you understand that she is a married woman. So you will, no doubt, agree to take your money and depart?"
"I shall go if she tells me to go," I answered; but even while I spoke my heart sank, for I had little hope.
"That is easily settled," answered Leroux. "I will bring her back and you shall hear the decision from her own lips."
He left the room, and I sat there alone beside the dotard, listening to the click of the ball and the chink of the coins, and the roar of the twin cataracts above.
In truth, I had no further excuse for staying. I knew what Jacqueline's reply must be.
But there had been a sinister smoothness in Leroux's latest mood. I did not trust the man, for all his bluntness. I suspected something, and I did not intend to relax my guard.
A gentle touch upon the elbow made me leap round in my chair. Old Charles Duchaine had ceased to play and was watching me out of his mild eyes. His fingers stroked my coat-sleeve timidly, as though he were afraid of me.
"Don't go away!" he said with a shrewd leer. "Don't go away!"
"Eh?" I exclaimed, startled at this answer to my own self-questioning.
"Simon is a bad man," whispered the greybeard, putting his nodding head close down to mine. "He won't let you go away. He never lets anyone go when they have come here. He didn't know my little daughter was going, but I was too clever for him, because he wasn't here. They think I am a silly old man, but I know more than they think. Simon thinks he has got me in his power, but he hasn't."
"How is that?" I inquired, startled at the man's sincerity. I fancied that he must have been pretending to be half imbecile for reasons of his own.
"I have a system," leered the dotard. "I can win thousands and millions with it. I have been perfecting it for years. I have sent my little daughter to New York to play. Then I shall put Simon out of the house and we shall all be happy in Quebec together."
I turned from him in disgust, and, after ineffectually tapping my arm for a few moments, he went back to his wheel. But, though I was disappointed to discover that my surmise as to his playing a part was incorrect, his words set me thinking. An imbecile old person is often a fair reader of character. Was Simon plotting something?
He came back with Jacqueline before I could decide.
"If you bid him, madame, M. Hewlett is willing to take his departure," said Leroux to her. "Is it your wish that he remain or go?"
"Oh, I want you to go, monsieur," said Jacqueline, clasping her hands pleadingly. Her eyes were full of tears, which trickled down her cheeks, and she turned her head away. "There is no reason why you should remain, monsieur," she said.
"Are you saying this of your free will, Jacqueline?" I cried.
She nodded, and I saw Simon's evil face crease with suppressed mirth.
I rose up. "Adieu, then, madame," I said. "But first permit me to restore the money that I have been keeping for you." And I took out my pocketbook.
Simon stared at me incredulously.
"I do not understand you in the least, now, M. Hewlett," he exclaimed. "You are to keep the money. I do not go back upon my bargains."
"It is not, however, your money," I retorted, though I knew that it soon would be. "I shall return it to Mme. d'Epernay, who entrusted me with it. Beyond that I care nothing as to its ultimate destination, though perhaps I can guess. Naturally I do not carry eight thousand dollars about with me——"
"Ten thousand!" shouted Simon.
"Mme. d'Epernay gave me eight thousand," I said. "I do not know anything about ten thousand. Probably Mr. Daly has the rest. But, as I was saying, I shall give you a check——"
Leroux burst into loud laughter and slapped me heartily upon the shoulder.
"Paul Hewlett," he said, with genuine admiration, "you are as good as a play. My friend, it would have paid you to have accepted my own offer. However, you declined it and I shall not renew it. Well, let us take your check, and it shall be accepted in full settlement." He winked at me and thrust his tongue into his cheek.
I was too sick at heart to pay attention to his buffoonery. I sat down at the table and, taking up a pen which lay there, wrote a check for eight thousand dollars, making it out to Jacqueline d'Epernay. This I handed to her.
"Adieu, madame," I said.
"Adieu, monsieur," she answered almost inaudibly, her head bent low.
I went out of the room, still gripping my pistol, and I took care to let Simon see it as we descended the stairs side by side. The noisy laughter in the ballroom had ceased, but I heard Raoul and Jean Petitjean quarrelling, and their thick voices told me that they were in no condition to aid their master.
Then there were only Leroux and Philippe Lacroix to deal with. I could have saved the situation.
What a fool I had been! What an irresolute fool! I never learned.
As we reached the bottom of the stairs Philippe Lacroix came out of the ballroom carrying a candle. I saw his melancholy, pale face twist with surprise as he perceived me.
"Philippe, this is M. Paul Hewlett," said Leroux. "To-morrow you will convey him to the cabin of Pere Antoine, where he will be able to make his own plans. You will go by way of le Vieil Ange."
Lacroix started violently, muttered something, and passed up the stairs, often turning to stare, as I surmised from the brief occasions of his footsteps.
"Now, M. Hewlett, I shall show you your sleeping-quarters for to-night," Leroux continued to me, and conducted me out into the fenced yard. A number of Eskimo-dogs were lying there, and one of them came bounding up to me and began to sniff at my clothes, betraying every sign of recognition.
This I knew to be the beast that I had taken to the home. How it had managed to make its escape I could not imagine; but it had evidently come northward with hardly a pause; and not only that, but had accompanied us on our journey from St. Boniface at a distance, like the half-wild creature that it was.
Two sleighs were standing before the huts. Leroux led me past them and knocked at the door of the largest cabin.
"Pierre Caribou!" he shouted.
He was facing the door and did not see what I saw at the little window on the other side. I saw the face of the old Indian, distorted with a grimace of fury as he eyed Leroux.
Next moment he stood cringing before him, his features a mask. Looking in, I saw a huge stove which nearly filled the interior, and seated beside it the middle-aged squaw.
"This gentleman will sleep here to-night," said Leroux curtly. "In the morning at sunrise harness a sleigh for him and M. Lacroix. Adieu, M. Hewlett," he continued, turning to me. "And be sure your check will never be presented."
There was something so sinister in his manner that again I felt that thrill of fear which he seemed able to inspire in me.
He was less human than any man I had known. He impressed me always as the incarnation of resolute evil. That was his strength—he was both bad and resolute. If bad men were in general brave, evil would rule the world as he ruled his. He swung upon his heel and left me.
I went in with Pierre Caribou, and the squaw glided out of the cabin. There were two couches of the kind they used to call ottomans inside, which had evidently once formed part of the chateau furnishings for their faded splendour accorded little with the decrepit interior of the hut.
I looked at my watch. I had thought it must be midnight, and it was only eight. Within three hours I had won Jacqueline and lost her forever. With Leroux in my power, I had yielded and gone away.
And on the morrow I should arrive at Pere Antoine's hut just when he expected me.
Surely the mockery of fate could go no further!
I sank down on one of the divans and buried my face in my hands, while Pierre Caribou busied himself preparing food over the stove.
TEE OLD ANGEL
Presently the Indian touched me on the shoulder and I looked up. He had a plateful of steaming stew in his hands, and set it down beside me.
"Eat!" he said in English.
I was too dispirited and dejected to obey him at first. But soon I managed to fall to, and I was surprised to discover how ravenous I was. I had eaten hardly anything for days, and only a few mouthfuls since morning.
As I was eating there came a scratching at the door, and the Eskimo-dog pushed its way into the cabin and came bounding to my side. I stroked and petted it, and gave it the remnants of my meal, while Pierre watched us.
"You know him dog?" he asked.
"I saw it in New York," I answered. "It brought me to Mlle. Jacqueline."
My mind was very much alert just then. It was as though some hidden monitor within me had taken control to guide me through a maze of unknown dangers. It was that inner prompting which had forbidden me to say "Mme. d'Epernay."
I had a consciousness of some impending horror. And I was shaking and all a sweat—with fear, too—gripping fear!
Yet the old name sounded as sweet as ever to my lips.
The Indian drew the stool near me and sat down. "You meet Mlle. Jacqueline in New York?" he asked.
"I brought her back," I answered.
"I know," the Indian answered. "I meet Simon; drive him from St. Boniface to chateau. He want shoot you. I say no, you blind man, him leave you die in snow. I take Ma'm'selle Jacqueline to St. Boniface when she run 'way. Simon not here then or I be 'fraid. Simon bad man. He give my gal to Jean Petitjean. My gal good gal till Simon give her to Jean Petitjean. Simon bad man. Me kill him one day."
I saw a glimmer of hope now, though of what I hardly knew; or perhaps it was only the desire to talk of Jacqueline and hear her name upon my lips and Pierre's.
"Pierre Caribou," I said, "wouldn't you like to have the old days back when M. Duchaine was master and there was no Simon Leroux?"
He did not answer me, but I saw his face-muscles twitch. Then he pulled a pipe from his pocket and stuffed it with a handful of coarse tobacco. He handed it to me and struck a match and held it to the bowl.
When the tobacco was alight he took another pipe and began smoking also.
I had not smoked for days, and I inhaled the rank tobacco-fumes through the old pipe gratefully. I was smoking, with an Indian, and that meant what it has always meant. A black cloud seemed to have been lifted from my mind. And I was not trembling any more.
But how warily I was reaching out toward my companion.
"Pierre, I came here to save Mlle. Jacqueline," I said.
"No can save him," he answered. "No can fight against Simon."
"What, in the devil's name, is his power, then?" I cried.
"Le diable," he replied. He may have misunderstood me, but the answer was apt. "No use fight him," he said. "All finish now. Old times, him finish, and my gal, too. Soon Pierre Caribou, him finish. No can fight Simon. Perhaps old Pierre kill him, nobody else." He looked steadily at me. "I poison him dogs," he added.
"What?" I exclaimed.
"Simon, him tell me long ago nobody come to chateau. So you finish, too, maybe. What he tell you, you go?"
"Lacroix is going to take me to Pere Antoine's cabin to-morrow morning," I answered.
The Indian grunted. "Simon no mean to let you go," he said. "He mean kill you. You know too much. Sometime he kill me, too, or I kill him. Once I live in old chateau at St. Boniface with old M'sieur Duchaine. Good days then, not like how. Hunt plenty game. Fine people come from Quebec, not like Simon. M'sieur Charles small boy then. All finish now."
"Pierre," I said, taking him by the arm, "what is the Old Angel—le Vieil Ange?"
He stared stolidly at me.
"Why you ask that?" he said.
"Because Lacroix has been instructed to take me by that route," I answered.
Pierre said not a word, but smoked in silence. I sat upon the couch waiting. His face was quite impassive, but I knew that my question was of tremendous import to me.
At last he shook the ashes out of his pipe and rose. "Come with me," he said. "I show you—because you frien' of Ma'm'selle Jacqueline. Come."
I followed him out of the hut. A large moon was just rising out of the east, but it was not yet high enough to cast much light.
Still Pierre seemed in deadly terror of Simon, for he motioned me to creep, as he was creeping, out of the enclosure, bending low beside the fence, so that a watcher from the chateau might not detect our silhouettes against the snow-covered lake.
When we were clear of the chateau, or, rather, the lit portion of it, Pierre began to run swiftly, still in a crouching position, and in this way we gained the tunnel entrance.
He took me by the arm, for it was too dark for me to follow him by sight, and we traversed, perhaps, a mile of outer blackness. Then I began to see a gleam of moonlight in front of me, and, though I had not been conscious of making any turn, I discovered that we must have retraced our course completely, for I heard the roar of the cataracts again.
Then we emerged upon a tiny shelf of rock some forty feet up the face of the wall, and quite invisible from below. It was a little above the level of the chateau roof, about a hundred yards away. Below me I could see the main entrance to the tunnel.
We had a foothold of about ten feet on the level platform, which was slippery with smooth, black ice, and thundering over us, so near that I could almost have touched it had I stretched out my hand, the whirling torrent plunged into that hell below.
It was a terrific scene. Above us that stream of white water, resembling nothing so much as a high-pressure jet from a fireman's hose magnified a thousand times, curved like a crystal arch, and so compact by reason of its force that not a drop splashed us. It was as strong as a steel girder, and I think it would have cut steel.
Pierre caught my arm as I reeled, sick with the shock of the discovery, and yelled into my ear above the dim.
"Le Vieil Ange!" he cried. "This way Simon mean you to go to-morrow. Lacroix him tell you: 'Get down, we find the road.' He take you up here and push you—so."
He made a graphic gesture with his arm and pointed. I looked down, shuddering, into the black, foam-crested water, bubbling and whirling among the grotesque ice-pillars that stood like sentries upon the brink.
The horror of the plot quite unmanned me. I groped for the shelter of the tunnel, and clung to the rocky wall to save myself from obeying a wild impulse to cast myself headlong into the flood below.
I perceived now that the whole face of the wall was honeycombed with tunnels of natural formation running into the recesses of the limestone. I wondered that the whole structure, undermined thus and pressed down by the weight of millions of tons of ice above where the glacier lay, did not collapse and crumble down in ruin.
Rivulets gushed from the wall everywhere, mingling their contributory waters with those of the twin torrents. The plateau seemed to be the watershed in which the drainage of the entire territory had its origin. Within those connecting caves, if a man knew their secret, he might hide from a regiment.
Pierre followed me to the mouth of the tunnel and gripped me by both arms.
"What you do?" he asked. "You go to Pere Antoine to-night? What you do now?"
I took the pistol from my coat pocket.
"Pierre," I answered, "I have two bullets here, and both of them are for Simon. To-night I had him in my power and spared him. Now I am going back, and I shall shoot him down like a dog, whether he is armed or defenceless."
"You no shoot Simon," the Indian grunted. "Le diable him frien'. You had him to-night; why you no shoot him then?"
I did not know. But I was going to find out soon.
"I am going back to kill him now," I repeated. "Afterward I do not know what will happen. But you can go on to the hut of Pere Antoine and, if luck is with me, I shall meet you, there—perhaps with Mlle. Jacqueline."
But I had little hope of meeting him with Jacqueline. Only I could not forbear to speak her name again.
Pierre's face was twitching. "You no go back!" he cried. "Simon he kill you. No use to fight Simon. Him time not come yet. When him time come, he die."
"When will it come?" I asked, looking at the man's features, which were distorted with frenzied hate.
"I not know!" exclaimed Pierre. "I try find—cards to tell me. No Indian man in this part country remember how to tell me. In old days many could tell. Now I wait. When his time come, old Indian know. He kill Simon then himself. Nobody else kill Simon. No use you try."
I own that, standing there and thinking upon the man's hellish design, his unscrupulousness, his singular success, I felt the old fear of Leroux in my heart, and with it something of the same superstition of his invulnerability. But my resolution surpassed my fear, and I knew it would not fail me. How often had I resolved—and forgotten. Not again would I forget.
I shook the Indian's hands away and plunged forward into the tunnel again. I heard him calling after me; but I think he saw that I was not to be deterred, for he made no attempt to follow me.
And so I went on and on through the darkness, and with each step toward the chateau my resolution grew.
I seemed to have been travelling for a much longer period than before. Every moment, straining my eyes, I expected to see the light of the entrance, but the road went on straight apparently, and there was nothing but the darkness.
At last I stood still; and then, just as I was thinking of retracing my steps, I felt a breath of air upon my forehead.
I hurried on again, and in another minute I saw a faint light in front of me. Presently it grew more distinct. I was approaching the tunnel's mouth. But I stopped again. I was waiting for something—to hear something that I did not hear. Then I knew that it was the sound of the waterfalls. In place of them there was only the gurgling of a brook.
My elbow grated against the tunnel wall. I stepped sidewise toward the centre, and ran against the wall opposite. Now, by the stronger light, I could see that I had strayed once again into some byway, for the passage was hardly three feet wide and the low roof almost touched my head.
It narrowed and grew lower still; but the light of the stars was clear in front of me and the cold wind blew upon my face; and I squeezed through into the same scooped-out hollow which I had entered on the same afternoon during the course of my journey toward the chateau.
I had approached it apparently through a mere fissure in the rocks upon the opposite side and at a point where I had assured myself that there could be no passage. The little river gurgled at my feet, and in front of me I saw a candle flickering in the recesses of a cave, so elfinlike that I could distinguish it only by shielding my eyes against the moon and stars.
I grasped my pistol tightly and crept noiselessly forward. If this should be Leroux, as I was convinced it was, I would not parley with him. I would shoot him down in his tracks.
My moccasined feet pressed the soft ground without the slightest sound. I gained the entrance to the cave. Within it, his back toward me, a man was stooping down.
As I stepped nearer him my feet dislodged a pebble, which rolled with a splash into the bed of the stream.
The man started and spun around, and I saw before me the pale, melancholy features of Philippe Lacroix.
He uttered an oath and took two steps backward, but I saw that he was unarmed and that he realized his helplessness. He flung his hands above his head and stood facing me, surprise and terror twisting his features into a grimacing grin.
There was no man, next to Leroux, whom I would rather have seen.
"I wanted to see you, M. Hewlett," he babbled.
"I can quite believe that, M. Lacroix," I answered. "You have looked for me before. But this time you have found me."
"I have something of importance to say to you, monsieur," he began again.
"I can believe that, too," I answered. "It is about le Vieil Ange, is it not?"
"By God, I did not mean—I swear to you, monsieur—listen, monsieur, one moment only," he stammered. "Lower your pistol. You see that I am unarmed!"
I lowered it. "Well, say what you have to say," I said to him.
"Leroux is a devil!" he burst out, with no pretended passion. "I want you to help me, M. Hewlett, and I can help you in a way you do not dream of. I am not one of his kind, to take his orders. Why in Quebec he would be like the dirt beneath my feet. He has a hold over me; he tempted me to gamble in one of his houses, and I—well, he has a hold over me. But he shall not drive me into murder. M. Hewlett, how much do you think this seigniory is worth?"
"I am not a financier," I answered. "Some half a million dollars, perhaps."
He came close to me and hissed into my ear: "Monsieur, there is more gold in these rocks than anywhere in the world! Look here! Here!"
He stooped down and began tossing pebbles at my feet. But they were pebbles of pure gold, and each one of them was as large as the first joint of my thumb. And I had misjudged his courage, I think, for it was avarice and not fear that made him tremble.
So that was Lacroix's master-passion! I had always associated it with decrepit old age, as in the case of Charles Duchaine.
I looked into the cave. Lacroix was bending over a great heap of sacks, piled almost to the roof. They were sacks of earth, but the earth was naked with gold, and I saw nuggets glittering in it.
"It is everywhere, monsieur!" cried Lacroix. "In this stream, in these hills, too. You can gather a mortarful of earth anywhere, and it will show colour when it is washed. We found this place together——"
"You and Leroux?"
"No! I and——"
He broke off suddenly and eyed me with furtive cunning.
"Yes, yes, monsieur, Leroux and I. And we two worked here together, with nothing more than picks and shovels and mortars and pestles, Leroux and I. There was nobody else. We slept here when Duchaine thought we were in Quebec. For days and days we washed and dug, and we have hardly scratched the surface. Monsieur, it is the Mother Lode, it is the world's treasure-house! There are millions upon millions here!"
I understood now why the provisions had been stored there. And I had passed by and never known that there was an ounce of gold! But——
"There are three blankets here," I said.
"Yes, yes, monsieur!" cried Lacroix eagerly. "I suffer much from cold. Two of them are mine, and Leroux has only one. It is the richest gold deposit in the world, M. Hewlett, and neither Raoul nor Jean Petitjean knows the secret—only Leroux and I. One cannot light upon this place save by a miracle of chance, such as brought you here. God put this treasure in these hills, and He did not mean it to be found."
I grasped him by the shoulder. "Do you see what this means?" I shouted.
"It means a glorious life!" he cried. "All the wealth in the world——"
"No, it means death!" I answered. "It means that if Leroux succeeds in killing me, he will kill you, too! Don't you see that we must stand together? Do you suppose that he will share his hoard with you?"
"No, M. Hewlett," answered Lacroix quietly. "And that is precisely what I wanted to say to you. You are not a hog like Leroux; I can trust you. And then you are a gentleman, and we gentlemen trust each other. I will give you a share in the gold, and you will get mademoiselle. She has no love for Louis. She left him half an hour after the marriage had been performed. Leroux witnessed the ceremony, and he hurried away with Pere Antoine, and then she ran away. She loves you! And Louis will not trouble you!"
"Faugh!" I muttered. "I don't want to hear your views on—on Mlle. Jacqueline, my friend. But it seems to me that our interests are mutual, and, as it happens, I was on my way back to have it out with Leroux when I stumbled upon this place."
"But I can show you the way," he exclaimed. "Come with me, monsieur. I don't know how you got into the wrong passage, but it is simple—straight ahead. Come with me! I will precede you."
I followed him into the darkness, and very soon heard the sound of the cataract again. And then once more I was standing at the tunnel entrance, under a brilliant moon, and the chateau was before me.
It was all dark now, except for a glimmer of light that came from two windows on the far side, visible indirectly as a reflection from the snowy steeps beyond. That must be Duchaine's room.
Leroux's I did not know, of course, but I surmised that it was one of those on the same story, which I had passed while making my previous tour of discovery. But this ignorance did not cause me much concern. I knew that, once we were face to face together, I should gain the victory over him.
And I would be merciless and not falter.
And Jacqueline! If I won, should I not keep her? She was mine, even against her will, by every rule of war. And this was a world of war, where beauty went to the strong, and all rules but that were scratched from the book of life.
I would not even tread softly now, nor slink within the shadows. Nor did I fear Lacroix, although he had fallen out of sight behind me.
I strode steadily across the snow and opened the door in the dark wing, entered the hall and ascended the stairway, took the turn to the right and passed through the little hall. As I had guessed, the light came from Duchaine's room.
I heard Leroux's harsh voice within; and if I stopped outside it was not in indecision, but because I meant to make sure of my man this time.
Through the crack of the door I saw old Charles Duchaine nodding over his wheel. Leroux was standing near him, and in a corner, beside the window, was Jacqueline. She was facing our common enemy as valiantly as she had done before. And he was still tormenting her.
"I want you, Jacqueline," I heard him say, in a voice which betrayed no throb of passion. "And I am going to have you. I always have my way, I am not like that weak fool, Hewlett."
"It was I sent him away, not you," she cried. "Do you think he was afraid of you?"
Leroux looked at her in admiration.
"You are a splendid woman, Jacqueline," he said. "I like the way you defy me. But you are quite at my mercy. And you are going to yield! You will yield your will to mine——"
"Never!" she cried. "I will fling myself into the lake before that shall happen. Ah, monsieur"—her voice took on a pleading tone—"why will you not take all we have and let us go? We are two helpless people; we shall never betray your secrets. Why must you have me too?"
"Because I love you, Jacqueline," he cried, and now I heard an undertone of passion which I had not suspected in the man. "I am not a scoundrel, Jacqueline. Life is a hard game, and I have played it hard. And I have loved you for a long time, but I would not tell you until I had the right as well as the power—but now my love is my law, and I will conquer you!"
He caught her in his arms. She uttered a little, gasping cry, and struggled wildly and ineffectually in his grasp.
I was quite cold, for I knew that was to be the last of his villainies. I entered the room and walked up to the table, my pistol raised, aiming at his heart, and I felt my own heart beat steadily, and the will to kill rise dominant above every hesitation.
Leroux spun round. He saw me, and he smiled his sour smile. He did not flinch, although he must have seen that my hand was as steady as a rock. I could not withhold a certain admiration for the man, but this did not weaken me.
"What, you again, monsieur?" he asked mockingly. "You have come back? You are always coming back, aren't you?"
The truth of the diagnosis struck home to me. Yes, I was always coming back. But this time I had come back to stay.
"Can I do anything further for you, M. Hewlett?" he asked. "Was not your bed comfortable? Do you want something, or is it only habit that has brought you back here where nobody wants you?"
"I have come back to kill you, Leroux," I answered, and pulled the trigger six times.
And each time I heard nothing but the click of the hammer.
Then, with his bull's bellow, Simon was upon me, dashing his fists into my face, and bearing me down. My puny struggles were as ineffective as though I had been fighting ten men. He had me on the floor and was kneeling on my chest, and in a trice the other ruffians had come dashing along the hall.
Jacqueline was beating with her little fists upon Leroux's broad back, but he did not even feel the blows. I heard old Charles Duchaine's piping cries of fear, and then somebody held me by the throat, and I was swimming in black water.
"Bring a rope, Raoul!" I heard Simon call.
Half conscious, I knew that I was being tied. I felt the rope tighten upon my wrists and limbs; presently I opened my aching eyes to find myself trussed like a chicken to two legs of the table. I think it was Jean Petitjean who said something about shooting me, and was knocked down for it. Leroux was yelling like a demoniac. I saw Jacqueline's terrified face and the trembling old man; and presently Leroux was standing over me again, perfectly calm.
He had taken the pistol from my coat pocket and placed it on the table, and now he took it in his hand and held it under my eyes. The magazine was empty.
"Ah, Paul Hewlett, you are a very poor conspirator, indeed," he said, "to try to shoot a man without anything in your pistol. Do you remember how affectionately I put my arm round you when you were sitting in that chair writing your ridiculous check? It was then that I took the liberty of extracting the two cartridges. But I did think you would have had sense to examine your pistol and reload before you returned."
Jacqueline was clinging to him. "Monsieur," she panted, "you will spare his life? You will unfasten him and let him go?"
"But he keeps coming back," protested Leroux, wringing his hands in mock dismay.
"Spare him, monsieur, and God will bless you! You cannot kill him in cold blood," she cried.
"We will talk about that presently, my dear," he answered. "Go and sit down like a good child. I have something more to ask this gentleman before I make my decision."
He picked up a scrap of newspaper from the table and held it before my eyes, deliberately turning up the oil-lamp wick that I might read it. I recognized it at once. It was the clipping from the newspaper, descriptive of the murdered man, which I had cut out in the train and placed in my pocketbook.
"You dropped this, my friend, when you pulled out your check-book," said Simon. "You are a very poor conspirator, Paul Hewlett. Assuredly I would not have you on my side at any price. Well?"
"Well?" I repeated mechanically.
"Who killed him?" he shouted.
He shook the paper before my eyes and then he struck me across the face with it.
"Who killed Louis d'Epernay?" he yelled, and Jacqueline screamed in fear.
"I did," I answered after a moment.
THE LITTLE DAGGER
Leroux staggered back against the wall and stood there, scowling like a devil. It was evident that my answer had been totally unexpected. I had never seen him under the influence of any overwhelming emotion, and I did not at the time understand the cause of his consternation.
Jacqueline was clinging to her father, and the old man looked from one to the other of us in bewilderment, and shook his white head and mumbled.
"Did you—know this, madame?" cried Leroux fiercely to Jacqueline.
"Yes," she replied.
"So this is why you pretended to have forgotten. You remembered everything?"
"You lied to shield yourself?"
"No, to shield him," she cried. "Because he was my only friend when I was helpless in a strange city. You did not steal my money, did you, Paul?" she added, turning swiftly upon me. "No, you have paid me. You were keeping it for me."
"You lie!" yelled Leroux, and he struck her across the mouth as he had struck me.
I writhed in my bonds. I pulled the heavy table after me as I tried impotently to crawl toward him, sending the wheel flying and all the papers whirling through the air. I cursed Leroux as blasphemously as he was cursing Jacqueline. I saw a trickle of blood on her cut lip, and the proud smile upon her face as she defied him.
And at the door was the pale face of Philippe Lacroix.
Leroux turned on me and kicked me savagely, and dragged the table to the far end of the room, and struck me repeatedly, while I struggled like a madman. The oaths and execrations that streamed from my lips seemed to be uttered by another man, for I heard them indifferently, or rather something that was I, deep in the maze of my personality, heard them—not that pitiful, puny, goaded thing that fought in its bonds until it ceased, panting and exhausted.
There followed a long silence, while Leroux strode furiously about the room. At last he stopped; he seemed to have made up his mind.
"I understand now," he said, nodding his head. "So you are the man who took this woman to the Merrimac. And then to your home, and Louis d'Epernay followed you there, and, naturally, you killed him. Well, it is intelligible. You were not acting for Carson after all, but were infatuated with this woman. Well—but——" He wheeled and turned to Jacqueline. "I will marry you still!"
She did not deign to answer him nor to wipe away the blood that trickled down her chin.
"Do you know why?" he bawled.
She raised her eyes indifferently to his. I saw that, though her spirit was unbroken, she was weary to death.
"Because you become part heir of the seigniory by your husband's death!" he shouted; and then he took Charles Duchaine by the arm and began shaking him violently.
"Listen, you old fool!" he cried. "Your son-in-law is dead—Louis d'Epernay!"
Charles Duchaine looked at Leroux in his mild way. He had put one arm round his daughter, and he seemed to understand that Simon was maltreating her, and to wish to defend her; but his wits were still wandering, and I saw that he understood only a little of what was passing.
"Louis d'Epernay is dead!" cried Simon, shaking the old man again.
"Well, well!" answered Duchaine, stroking his long beard with his free hand. "So Louis is dead! Did you kill him, Simon?"
"No, I didn't kill him," Simon sneered. "Wake up a little more, Duchaine. Do you know what happens now he is dead?"
"I expect you to get some more money, Simon," answered the old man with an ingenuousness that made the reply more stinging than any intended irony.
Leroux burst into a mirthless laugh.
"You are quite right, Duchaine," he answered. "And I am not going to mince matters. I have a hold over you, and you will do my bidding. You will assign your share to me as your son-in-law."
I saw Jacqueline looking at me. I would not meet her gaze, but at last her persistence compelled me. Then I saw her glance toward the wall.
The two broadswords hung there, within arm's reach, above the broken mirror. My heart leaped up at the thought of her valour. She had no mind to yield!
But I shook my head imperceptibly in answer, and looked down at my bonds.
"I don't want you to marry my daughter, Simon," said old Duchaine mildly. "I saw you strike her in the face just now. No gentleman would do that. Come, Simon, you know you are not a gentleman; you ought not to think of such a thing. Jacqueline would not be happy with you. What does she say?"
"I don't care what she says," snarled Leroux. "I will take care of that."
I had been trying hard to devise some method of freeing myself. My struggles had relaxed the ropes around my wrists sufficiently to allow my hands two or three inches of movement, and I hoped, by hard work, to loosen them sufficiently to enable me to get at least one hand free.
Then I felt that something hard was pressing into my back, just within reach of my right thumb and forefinger. My fur coat, which was still round me, was twisted, so that the inside breast-pocket was behind me, and I fancied that the hard object was something that I had placed in this receptacle.
I let my thumb and finger travel up and down it. It had the form of a tiny knife, with a heavy, rounded handle.
And suddenly I knew what it was. It was the knife with which Louis d'Epernay had been killed!
I must have put it in my breast-pocket at some time, intending to throw it away, and it had slipped through a hole in the lining and gone down as far as the next ridge of fur, where it had become wedged.
I could just get my finger and thumb round the point of the blade. The ropes scored deeply into my wrists as I worked at it, but I felt the lining give, and presently I had worked the blade through and had the knife out by the handle.
But it was made for thrusting more than cutting, and I had to pick the ropes to pieces, strand by strand.
Jacqueline had been imperceptibly edging away from her father and Leroux; she was now standing immediately beneath the rusty swords. And outside the door I still perceived Lacroix, motionless.
It flashed across my mind that he understood the girl's desperate ruse, and that he was waiting for the issue. I picked furiously at the ropes which bound my hands, and a long strand uncoiled and whipped back on my wrist.
Suddenly I heard old Charles Duchaine bring down his fist with a vigorous thud upon the end of the table.
"I'll see you in —— first, Simon!" was his unexpected remark.
"What?" cried Simon, taken completely aback.
"No, Simon," continued the old man in his mild voice once more. "You are not a gentleman you know, and you are not fit to marry Jacqueline."
Leroux thrust his hard face into the old man's.
"Duchaine, your wits are wandering," he answered. "Listen now! Have you forgotten that the government is searching for you night and day? It was a long time ago that you killed a soldier of the Canadian forces, but not too long ago for the government to remember. It has a long memory and a long arm, too, and at a word from me——"
It was pitiful to see the change that came over Duchaine's face. He shook with fear and stretched out his withered hands appealingly.
"Simon, you wouldn't betray me after all these years of friendship?" he cried. "Mon Dieu, I do not wish to hang!"
"Keep calm, Charles, my friend," responded Simon glibly. "I am ready to return friendship for friendship. Will you acknowledge me as your son-in-law and heir?"
"Yes," stammered the old man. "Take everything, Simon; only leave me free."
"Well, that is more reasonable," said Leroux, evidently mollified. "I am not the man to go back on my friends. I shall give you a cash return of ten thousand dollars. You have not forgotten the old times in Quebec?"
"No, Simon," muttered Duchaine, looking up hopefully at him.
"If you had ten thousand dollars, Charles, you could make your fortune in a week. They play high nowadays, and your system would sweep all before it."
"Yes, yes!" cried the dotard eagerly. "If only I had ten thousand dollars I could make my fortune. But I am old now. My little daughter has gone to New York to play for me. You did not know that, Simon, did you?" he added, looking at him with a cunning leer.
"She cannot play as well as you, Charles," said Leroux. "You have played so long, you know; you have the system at your fingers' ends. There is nobody who could stand up against you. Do you remember Louis Street and the fine people who were your friends? How they will welcome you! You could become a man of fashion again, in spite of your long exile in these solitudes. Do you recollect the races, where thousands can be won in a few minutes, when your horse romps home by a neck? And the gaming-tables, where a thousand dollars is but a pinch of dust, and the bright lights and the chink of money—and you winning it all away? You can have horses and carriages again, and all houses will be open to you, for your little error has long ago been forgotten. And you are not an old man, Charles."
"Yes, yes, Simon!" cried the old man, fascinated by the picture. "It is worth it—by gracious, it is!"
Jacqueline swung round on Leroux. I saw her fists clench and her bruised lip quiver.
"Never, Simon Leroux!" she said. "And, what is more, my father is not competent to transfer his property, and I will fight you through every court in the land."
"I was coming to you, madame," sneered Simon. "I don't know much about the courts in this part of the country, but you will marry me to save the life of your lover."
"No!" she answered, setting her teeth.
He seized her by the wrists and dragged her across the floor to me.
"Look at him!" he yelled. "Look into his face. Will you marry me if I let him go free?"
"No!" answered Jacqueline.
"I swear to you that he shall be thrown from the top of the cataract unless you give your consent within five minutes."
"Never!" she answered firmly.
"I will denounce your father!"
"You can't frighten me with such stuff. I am not a weak old man!"
"You will think differently after Charles Duchaine has been hanged in Quebec jail," he sneered.
His words received a wholly unexpected answer. The dotard leaped forward, stooped down, and picked up the heavy roulette-wheel.
He raised it aloft and staggered wildly toward Leroux.
THE HIDDEN CHAMBER
Simon turned just in time. The wheel went crashing to the floor and bounded and rebounded out of the room and along the little hall. Philippe jumped in terror from the place where he crouched.
And then the last strand broke, and I was free to slip the cords from my limbs.
"You old fool!" screamed Leroux, catching Duchaine by the wrists. But Charles Duchaine possessed the strength of a madman. He grasped Leroux round the waist and clung to him, and would not be shaken off.
"Kill him!" he screamed. "He is a spy! He has come to betray me to the government!"
What followed was the work of a moment. I saw Jacqueline pull down both broadswords from the wall. She flung one down beside me just as I was staggering to my feet.
Leroux shook off the old man at last. He turned on me. I swung the sword aloft and brought it down upon his skull.
Heaven knows I struck to kill; but my wrist was feeble from the ropes, and the blade fell flat. It drew no blood, but Leroux dropped like a stricken ox upon the floor.
"This way!" gasped the old man.
He pulled at Jacqueline's arm, and half led and half dragged her through the open door behind his chair, I following. Lacroix sprang into the room, called, but whether to us or to the other ruffians I did not know. Leroux sat up and looked about him, dazed and bewildered.
Then I was in the little room with Jacqueline and Duchaine, and he turned and bolted the door behind us. He seemed possessed of all the strength and decision of youth again.
When I stood there before the room had been as dark as pitch, but now a flicker of light was at the far end. A voice cried:
"M'sieur! M'sieur! I have not forgotten thee!"
It was Pierre Caribou. I saw his figure silhouetted against the light of the flaring candle which he held in his hand.
Duchaine had placed one arm about his daughter's waist, and was urging her along. But she stopped and looked back to me. I saw she held one broadsword in her hand, as I held the other.
"Come, monsieur!" she gasped.
But I was too mad with the desire to make an end of Leroux to accompany her. I wanted to go back. I tried to find the bolt of the door in the gloom, but while my fingers were fumbling for it Jacqueline came running back to me.
"Quick, or we are lost!" she cried.
"I am going back," I answered, still fumbling for the holt Duchaine had drawn.
"No! We are safe inside. It is a secret room. My father made it in the first days of his sojourn here in case he was pursued, and none but Pierre and he know the secret. Ah, come, monsieur—come!"
She clung to me desperately, and there was an intensity of entreaty in her voice.
I hesitated. There was no sound in the room without, and I believed that the two ruffianly followers were ignorant of what had happened, and had not dared to return after being driven away.
But I meant to kill Leroux, and still felt for the bolt.
As I fumbled there the door splintered suddenly, and Jacqueline cried out. Through the hole I saw the oil-lamp shining in the outer room.
The door splintered again. All at once I realized that Leroux was firing his revolver at the panels. It was fortunate that we both stood at one side, where the latch was.
Then I yielded reluctantly to Jacqueline's soft violence. I followed her through the dark chamber, under an archway of stone, and through a winding passage in the rock. Pierre's candle flickered before us, and in another moment we had squeezed through a narrow opening into a chamber in the cliff.
On the ground were five or six large stones, and Pierre began to fit them into the aperture through which we had passed. In a minute the place was completely sealed, and we four stood and looked breathlessly at one another within what might have been a cenotaph.
Not the slightest sound came from without.
We were standing in a stone chamber, apparently of natural formation, but finished with rough masonry work. It was about the size of a large room, and I could see that it was only a widening of the tunnel itself, which continued through a narrow exit at the farther end, running on into the unknown depths of the cliff.
From the freshness of the air I inferred that it connected with the surface at no distant place.
The entrance through which we had come had been made by blasting at some period, or widened in this way, and then cemented, for the stones which Pierre had fitted into it exactly filled it, so that it was barely distinguishable from where I stood, and I am certain that it would have required a prolonged scrutiny on the part of searchers on the outside to enable them to detect it.
And even then only dynamite or blasting-powder could have forced a path, and it would have been exceedingly difficult to handle such materials within the tunnel without blocking the approach completely, while leaving open the farther exit.
The chamber seemed at one time to have been prepared for such a contingency as had occurred, for there were wool rugs on the stone floor, though they had rotted and partly disintegrated from the dampness.
There were a table and wooden chairs, also partially decayed. The mouldering fringes of some rugs protruded from a bundle wrapped in oil-paper.
Pierre Caribou opened this and shook them out on the ground. Except where their edges had been exposed, they were in good condition, and were thick enough to lie upon without much discomfort.
The interior of the cave was pleasantly warm, though moist.
"M. Duchaine, he make this place in case gov'ment come take him," explained Pierre as he placed the rugs on the floor. "No can find, no can break down stone door. Other way Simon not know—only m'sieur and me. Old Caribou he come that way; he see you tied and know it time to come here. Soon time to kill Simon come as well."
"When in Heaven's name will it come?" I cried.
"Come soon. His diable tell me," answered Pierre Caribou.
The chamber was as silent as the grave, except for the gurgling of a spring of water somewhere and the occasional pattering fall of a drop of moisture from the roof. And truly this might prove our grave, I thought, and none would find our bones in this heart of the cliff through all the ages that would come.
The flight seemed to have exhausted the last flicker of vitality in the old man, for he sank down upon the blankets in a somnolent condition. I could readily understand how his perpetual fear of discovery, intensified through many years of solitude, had grown to be an obsession, and how Leroux's idle threats had stimulated his weakened will to one last effort to escape.
Jacqueline knelt by his side. She paid no attention to me, except that once she asked for water. Pierre brought her some from the spring in a tin cup, and when she raised her head I could see that her lip was swollen from the blow of Leroux's fist.
The old man's hands were moving restlessly. Jacqueline bent over him and whispered, and he stirred and cried out petulantly. He missed his roulette-wheel, his constant companion through those years, his coins, and paper. In his way perhaps he was suffering the most of all.
"I go now," Pierre announced. "To-morrow I come for you, take all through tunnel. You stay here till I come; all sleep till morning."
"I will go with you, Pierre," I said, still under my obsession. But he laid his heavy hand upon my arm and pushed me away.
"You no kill Simon," he answered. "Why you no kill him again when you have sword? Only diable can kill him. When time come diable tell old Caribou. You sleep now. I not work for you now. I go for take my woman and gal safe through tunnel to place I know. When my woman and gal safe I come back to m'sieur and ma'm'selle."
It was a brave and simple declaration of first principles, and none the less affecting, because it came from the lips of a faithful, ignorant old man. It was just such simple loyalty that natures like Leroux's never knew, frustrating the most cunning plans based on self-interest.
I realized the strength of Pierre's argument. His duty lay first toward his kin; then he would place his life at his master's service. But he would have to cover many miles before he returned.
He went without a backward glance; but I saw his throat heave, and I knew what the parting meant to him. The feudal loyalty of the past was all his faith.
I flung myself down on my blanket. I was utterly exhausted, and with that dead weariness which precludes sleep. The candle was burning low and was guttering down upon one side, and a pool of hardening grease was spreading over the table-top.
I walked over to the table and blew it out. We must husband it; the darkness in the cave would become unbearable without a candle to light.
I lay down again. The silence was loneliness itself, and not rendered less lonely by the occasional cries of the old man and the drip, drip of water. I could not see anything, and Jacqueline might have been a woman of stone, for she made not the least movement.
But I felt her presence; I seemed to feel her thoughts, to live in her.
At last I spoke to her.
I heard her start, and knew that she had raised her head and was looking after me. I crawled toward her, dragging my blanket after me. I felt in the darkness for the place where I knew her hand must be and took it in mine.
"Jacqueline," I said, "you know I did not steal your money, don't you?"
"Forgive me, monsieur," I heard her whisper.
"Forgive me, Jacqueline, for I have brought heavy trouble upon you. But with God's aid I am going to save you both—your father and you—and take you away somewhere where all the past can be forgotten."
She sighed heavily, and I felt a tear drop on my hand.
"Jacqueline!" I cried.
"Ah, M. Hewlett"—the weariness of her voice went to my heart—"it might have been different—if——"
"If what, Jacqueline?"
"If there had not been the blood of a dead man between us," she moaned. "If—you—had not—killed him!"
Her words were a revelation to me, for I learned that she had mercifully been spared the full remembrance of what had happened in the Tenth Street apartment. She thought that it was I who had killed Louis d'Epernay.
And how could I deny this, when to do so would be to bring to her mind the knowledge of her own dreadful guilt?
The dotard stirred and muttered, and she whispered to him and soothed him as though he were a child. Presently he began to breathe heavily, as old men breathe in sleep. But Jacqueline crouched there in the same motionless silence, and I knew that she was awake and suffering.
And then my watch began hammering again, just as the alarm-clock had hammered on that awful night in my apartment when I crouched outside the door, not daring to go in. My mind was working against my will and picturing a thousand possibilities.
What was Leroux doing? He would act with his usual hammer force. All depended on Pierre.
The hours wore away, and we three lay there, two waiting and one dreaming of the old days of youth, no doubt. I tried to light the candle to see the time, but my shaking hand sent it flying across the cave, and when I searched for my matches, I found that the box was empty.
It seemed an eternity since we had come there. It is one thing to wait for dawn and quite another thing to wait where dawn will never come.
It must be day. And still Pierre did not come. As I lay there, listening for his returning footsteps, I heard Jacqueline breathe at last.
She was asleep from weariness after her long night's watch. Somehow the thought that she had passed into the world of dreams comforted me. For a brief time the dreadful accusation of murder had been lifted from my head, and my numbed mind was free to follow my will and leave its mad career of fancy. I could act now.
Why should I not follow where Pierre had led? If Leroux had captured him within his hut, as seemed only too likely, he would never return, and we should wait in vain. And with each hour of waiting our chances to escape grew less.
I resolved to follow the exit for a little distance to see whither it led, and if I could discover the light of day.
So I took my sword and sallied out through the passage in the cliff.
AT SWORDS' POINTS
I entered the tunnel, sword in hand, keeping both arms stretched out to feel my way. I resolved that I would always keep the left hand in contact with the wall upon that side, so that, in case the tunnel should divide, by reversing the process I could ensure my safe return.
I had only proceeded a few steps when the air grew cold and sweet. And before I had traversed two hundred yards I saw a dim light in the distance. This was no candle light, but that of day. So I had endured all those agonies of mind with the open air but a short distance away!
As I advanced I fancied that I heard the soft pattering of feet behind me.
I halted and listened intently. I crouched against the wall and waited. But I heard nothing now except the distant roaring of the cataracts. How sweet they sounded now!
I listened intently, leaning against the wall and facing backward, holding my sword ready to meet any intruder. But there was no sound from within, except the soughing which one hears in a tunnel; and satisfied at last that I had been the victim of an over-wrought imagination, I pursued my course.
The light grew brighter, but very slowly, until all at once I saw what seemed to be the gleam of an electric arc-light immediately ahead. It dazzled and half blinded me.
I started backward; and then the noble morning star disclosed herself, swinging in the sky like a blazing jewel in a translucent sea.
Before me was a projecting piece of rock, which had shut off the view, and but for that warning star I must have gone to my death. For my foot was slipping on ice—and I was clinging to the cliff-wall upon the other side of the tiny platform, where I had stood with Pierre, and the Old Angel thundered over me.
And, instead of noon, as I had thought it to be, it was only dawn, and the distant sky was banded with faint bars of yellow and gold, and the fresh morning air was in my nostrils.
I picked my way back, inch by inch, across the ice which coated the rocky floor for a few yards within the tunnel, until I stood in safety again.
The full purport of this discovery now came to me, and it filled me with frantic joy. For, since the cave connected with that platform beneath the cataract, it was evident that by crossing the ledge, a dangerous but not precarious feat, I should enter the main tunnel again and come out eventually beyond the hills, even allowing for a preliminary blunder into the wrong track.
The greatest danger lay in the possibility of Leroux or his aids lying in wait for me somewhere within the tunnel, and I had not much fear of that, for I did not believe they suspected that our cave connected with the main passage. It was more likely that they would wait in Duchaine's room till hunger drove us out.
So I started back to Jacqueline. But I had not gone six paces before I heard a scream that still rings in my ears to-day, and a shadow sprang out of the darkness and rushed at me. It was old Charles Duchaine. His white hair streamed behind him; his face bore an expression of indelible horror and rage, and in his hand he held the other sword.
With a madman's proverbial cunning he had pretended to be asleep; then he must have followed me stealthily as I made my journey of exploration; and now, doubtless, he ascribed all his wrongs and sufferings to me and meant to kill me.
His fears had snapped the last frail link that bound him to the world of sense.
He struck at me, a great sweeping blow which would almost have cut me in two. I had just time to parry it, and then he was upon me, raining blows upon my out-stretched sword. He was no swordsman, but slashed and hewed in frenzy, and the steel rang on steel, and the rust from the blades filled my nostrils with its sting.
But, though his attack was wild, the vigor of his blows almost beat down my guard. At last a random blow of mine swept the weapon from his feeble old hand and sent it whirling down the cataract into the lake below.
Then he was at my throat, and it was fortunate that there was firm rock instead of slippery ice beneath us, or we should both have followed the sword.
He linked his arms around me and wrestled furiously, and his weight and height so much surpassed my own that they compensated for his weakness. We swayed backward and forward, and the star dipped and swung over us, as though we stood upon the deck of a rolling ship.
"Calm yourself, for Heaven's sake, monsieur!" I gasped as I gained a momentary advantage over him. "Don't you know me? I am your friend. I want to save you!"
But he was at me again, trying to lock his hands about my throat; and, even after I had controlled him and pinned his arms to his sides, he fought like a fiend, and never ceased to yell. On either hand the rocks and tunnel gave back his howls with hideous echoes that rolled into the distance as though a hundred demons were at strife.
"You shall not take me! I have done nothing! It was years ago! Let me go! Let me go!" he screamed.
I released him for a moment, hoping that his disordered brain would calm enough for him to recognize me, and that, when he saw my motives were peaceful, he would grow quiet.
But suddenly, with a final howl, he sprang past me, Sweeping me against the wall, and leaped out on the ledge.
I held my breath. I expected to see him stagger to his death below. But he stood motionless in the middle of the little platform and stretched out his arms toward the raging torrent, as though in invocation. Then he leaped across with the agility of a wild sheep and rushed on into the tunnel beyond.
I drew my breath thickly and leaned against the wall, overcome with nausea. The physical shock of the struggle was, however, less appalling than the thought of Jacqueline.
I had no hope that the old man would ever return, or that his crazed brain remembered the way home to the cave. He would wander on through the tunnels, either to perish in them miserably, or to emerge at last into the snow beyond and die there.
Unless Leroux found him.
I started back, keeping this time to the right side of the tunnel, until I heard the gurgling of the brook. Then I heard Jacqueline's footstep.
"Who is it?" she called wildly. "M. Hewlett! My father!"
I caught her as she swayed toward me. "He has gone, Jacqueline," I said. "I went into the tunnel to try to find the way. He had been feigning sleep, and he crept after me. I tried to stop him. He was so frightened that I thought it best to let him go. He ran on into the tunnel——"
"We must find him," she said.
"He will come back, Jacqueline."
"He will never come back!" she answered. "He must have been planning this and waiting for me to sleep. For years he brooded over his danger, suspecting everybody, and the shock of last night unhinged his mind. He may be hiding somewhere. We must search for him."
"Let us go, then, Jacqueline," I answered.
In fact, there seemed to be no use in remaining any longer. If Pierre were on his way back, we ought to meet him in the tunnel; and if he had been captured, delay spelled ruin.
So I led her back into the tunnel on what was to be, I hoped, our final journey. We reached the ledge. The star had faded now, and the whole sky was bright with the red clouds of dawn.
Very cautiously we picked our way across the platform, clinging to the wall. It was a hideous journey over the slippery ice, beneath the thunder of the cataract; and when at length we reached the tunnel on the other side, I was shaking like a man with a palsy.
But, thank God, that nightmare was past. And with renewed confidence I went on through the darkness, with Jacqueline at my side, feeling my way by the deeper depression in the ground along the centre of the tubular passage.
At length I saw daylight ahead of me—and there was no sound of the torrents.
Fortune had led us where I had wanted her to lead—into the open space where the gold was. From there I knew that I could strike the passage which led into the sleigh road under the hills. Half an hour's travel ought to bring us to the rocking stone at the entrance, and safety.
But I found that I had entered the mine from a third point, and that some forty feet away from the place where I had emerged before. This time we were inside the cave in which Leroux and Lacroix had piled the sacks of earth.